Tech Preview: What to Look For at the Consumer Electronics Show

From 3D TVs to VOD-enabling 4G phones and iPad-killing tablets, an insider’s guide to gadget-crazed Vegas.

For a technophobe, the annual Consumer Electronics Show can be an intimidating place. But an enthusiast might feel a bit more like a small child who has been unleashed at FAO Schwarz.

There's a frenetic vibe at the show -- and millions of dazzling lights -- as more than 100,000 visitors weave their way through the crowded Las Vegas Convention Center to check out cutting-edge technology on display during the four-day convention, running Thursday through Sunday.

This year, the most closely watched product categories will include tablets, smartphones, connected TVs and 3D TVs. Topics that will be discussed are the macro trends driving the future of consumer electronics and entertainment -- whether you're setting up your home entertainment system or completing your studio's 3D development budget. Here's a sneak peek.



Expect stakeholders to tub-thump the 3D format. A growing selection of 3D-ready technologies are now on the market following CES's 2010 preview of 3D TVs, laptops, Blu-ray players and consumer cameras.

3D glasses, however, have been a sticking point. While a few select pairs have been announced for universal use, such as eyewear from Xpand, they're generally incompatible across all TV brands. So if your neighbors don't have the same brand TV set you do, coming together for a Super Bowl party might not be a practical idea. They're pricey, too, some running $150 a pair. This dilemma could change as companies have been working to identify a standard that will work with all major set manufacturers' systems.

But why use glasses at all? Industry veteran Peter Fannon, Panasonic's vp technology policy, suggests that glasses-free 3D could soon come in the form of handheld devices and digital signage -- though not yet 3D TVs.

"Most manufacturers would say a real no-glasses 3D experience on a large TV is many years away," he said. "We can demo how it could work. But it isn't comfortable or an acceptable situation. It requires [viewers] to sit perfect still [and at a single angle]."



The fourth generation of wireless technology will be front and center at CES.

"It means getting closer to a broadband-like environment on a mobile device," explained Shawn DuBravac, CEA's chief economist and director of research. "If one can get a broadband experience on a mobile, it changes what that person can do on the device. You could see changes in services being offered."

"4G really paves the way for wireless HD," said Edward Lichty, online VOD service VUDU's general manager. "It would allow us to leverage our strength in HD."

Still, there's room for debate as to the importance of 4G, as some technology veterans see it as simply an incremental speed improvement versus 3G.


Connected Everything

Imagine being able to access the Web anywhere, anytime, from any device. TVs? Connected. Phones? You bet. Tablets, video game consoles, Blu-ray players? Absolutely.

But that's just the start.

Soon, "other devices like outlets, alarm clocks and coffee pots [will be connected] as we build an 'Internet of things' they will do things on our behalf," DuBravac said. "We will start to see the first level of artificial intelligence integrated into these devices."

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